This paper outlines a multi-step approach to streamline and enhance the decision-making process that guides environmental remediation. The inability of the responsible party and the various stakeholders to reach agreement on the remediation plan can delay the remediation, result in financial penalties, and lead to the development of an adversarial stance that inhibits the ability of the parties to work together in a creative and constructive manner. The approach presented by the authors is designed to expand dialogue in a way that moves it beyond technical or fiscal matters by addressing what the authors describe as the “hidden barriers” to productive dialogue. These “hidden barriers” include: self-interests, the perception as to how people are being treated, a lack of clarity or poor management of responsibilities and accountabilities, unclear or convoluted communication protocols, and an underlying tone of conflict and cynicism. A key element of the multi-step approach outlined in this paper is the process of uncovering these “hidden barriers” and addressing them in a way that turns discourse into collaboration. The paper describes a model the authors have used to streamline and enhance the process of creating sustainable agreements both for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management as well as the U.S. Department of Defense for a variety of environmental remediation projects. The results of this approach include the acceleration of an environmental clean-up from a projected 19 years to 11 years, the development of innovative technical strategies, the reduction of a major backlog of environmental proposals requiring review and comment, and the distinction accorded one group of being recognized as a model of effective partnering. The approach described has widespread implications not only because its use can be expanded to include a multitude of decision-making applications but also because of the impact it creates by expanding both the management and leadership skills of those who use it.

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